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The White Ribbon

September 12, 2010

The White Ribbon (2009)
Director: Michael Haneke
Actors: Christian Friedel, Burghart Klaussner, Rainer Bock

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Synopsis: Sinister goings-on in a German village on the cusp of WW1.

Review: Michael Haneke’s latest effort is yet another bravura exercise in austere cinematic genius, with Haneke deceptively (or provocatively, depending on your take) pinning a Nazi-origin allegory on his drama of malevolent happenings in a 1913 German pastoral village. What is clearly not in question is Haneke’s complete mastery over his medium – something I believed was impossible to better from Hidden. The complete concentricity of tone he achieves is amazing – from the primal black and white photography, and the pitch-perfect performances from a necessarily unknown cast, to the stifling air of solemnity across the whole community.

Where I do marginally object is in the politics of the film, with Haneke demonstrating a rare lack of nerve by directly outing the story’s dramatic subtext – this Nazi-origin thesis – in an opening voiceover. Surely, that idea would have communicated itself more organically if the audience had been allowed to piece together the seemingly context-free on-screen action with its pivotal 1913 setting. Also, by making The White Ribbon strictly an exercise in subtext, Haneke fails to achieve the more wide-ranging success of Hidden, which though a political parable, was also a character study, an academic discourse on ontology, and a straight-up thriller. It must also be historically dubious if Haneke can systematically prove that the patriarchal cruelty of these strict protestant communities tragically effected a culture of sadism on the next generation of Germans. Though I do admire the bravado of such a theory – I just wish Haneke hadn’t pushed it so much. (August 2010)

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